“Catholic Church documents on the handing on of the faith declare unambiguously that it is the primary responsibility of the parents and the family. This pandemic-infested year provided a good opportunity to put this teaching into practice.”
So declared Margaret Lee, parishioner of Newport, Birdhill and Toor Catholic parish in Co Tipperary, in an article for the Irish Times, 7th October 2020.
Margaret began her article by relating an experience in Sweden – where a Dominican sister and friend was surprised that the ability of any Catholic parish to prepare children for communion could ever be in question. She could not see the point of school-based faith formation, as the educational system in Sweden is totally different from Ireland’s faith school tradition.
Margaret pointed out that the cancellation of the usual First Communion season in Ireland in 2020 could have enabled parishes to advise families that they, themselves, could prepare children for full participation in the Eucharist.
“They could choose a suitable day for the child to receive the sacrament with his/her family at the local parish Mass, and have their own family celebration. This would remove the ‘we don’t want our child to be deprived when all the other children are having their day’ element and eliminate the spectacle of a church full of adults screening the event on their phones and holding conversations throughout the entire Mass”.
“It is past time that the Catholic hierarchy became proactive in withdrawing its patronage from the school system. Doing so would take a certain amount of courage because such a move would probably provoke anger from some parents and teachers, but the Church has endured much anger in recent years. It would be good to suffer for a worthy cause.”
On the day Margaret’s article appeared, Ireland’s bishops were holding their autumn 2020 meeting. For signs that Margaret’s advice might be both timely and welcomed by those who chart the Irish church’s course through the present angry seas, ‘watch this space!‘
For those with access, Margaret’s complete Irish Times article can be found here.
What do we really mean by passing on ‘the faith?’ For many Catholics it is the ritual of mass, rosaries, novenas, prayers, holy water in the house, holy pictures, prayer cards, relics and all the paraphernalia our generations grew up with but is it really faith in the Gospels or faith in the institution of the RCC?
I’ve been tossing around in my head that idea of Margaret Lee’s that it should be the parents who prepare and take their child to receive the Sacraments but in theory how many parents would have the commitment and willingness to do this?
Without some form of religious instruction in schools, be it during class time or in a special after school class many children would know nothing whatsoever of God in this secular world. I know myself that many teachers charged with delivering religious instruction did not/ do not themselves believe. This task should not be imposed on them but should only be given those teachers or other adults who genuinely believe.
That said, it seems the perfect model of faith sharing in theory, that of committed parents, mum and dad ( or can we dare to think of the new reality that the traditional nuclear family is not always the norm nowadays ) preparing and accompanying their child to receive their second and third sacraments?
With the ongoing scandals in the Church, the absolutely appalling sexual abuse and cover up by clergy, the disgraceful financial scandals emanating from the Vatican (I will no longer give to Peter’s Pence) and the mind boggling monarchical structure visible to the eye and ear ( ‘Princes of the Church’ indeed!?) can you blame people for wanting to cut off any ties with the institution? We have not been great examples of Christian living and there are many other churches and belief systems that may appeal more to the discerning searcher.
So what do we do?
Reading about the recent beatification of Carlo Acutis and viewing the image (reconstructed silicone face) on my parish FB page I find it all quite disturbing and distasteful – this exhumation of a body to be displayed for people to venerate. Is that symbolic of Catholic faith? I find it stomach-churning and disrespectful to be honest. It is one example of ‘faith’ that causes me to rethink my membership of the Church.
Faith has to manifest itself in love of one’s neighbour and in active service to protect the vulnerable and the outsider and of reaching out without thought of self or of building up Brownie points towards an eternal reward.
I welcome more discussion and yearn for the day when barriers between the layers of hierarchy in the RCC are broken down and there is more honesty and a willingness to listen to all questioning voices in this Church of ours. What is real faith? How best to show our young people that it is a gift worth having and how do we “pass it on”?